, Books 1 & 2
Jun Märkl, cond; Royal Scottish Natl O
NAXOS 8.572584 (76: 31)
Peter Breiner, an apparently indefatigable arranger/orchestrator, who has given us suites from Janáček’s
From the House of the Dead
The Cunning Little Vixen
, baroque-style arrangements of Beatles songs, and a guitar concerto based on themes from
, has now turned his attention to both books of Debussy’s Preludes for solo piano. Although he exploits the possibilities of the modern orchestra, I think there is little here that would cause Henri Büsser and André Caplet to turn over in their graves. He retains Debussy’s order and, for the most part, seems to take the titles of the preludes seriously but, at the risk of being perceived as a “purist,” I think the preludes and other Debussy piano pieces are more “evocative” on the piano (their vagueness is an asset). Evocative of
, I’m not always sure but I think his music works better when Debussy isn’t filtered through the sensibilities of, say, Breiner or by Piero Coppola, Percy Grainger, Bernardino Molinari, Leopold Stokowski, or even Büsser and Caplet. Debussy gave many of his preludes whimsical titles that appear to have little connection with the actual music; They are derived from such things as poems, stories, performances he saw, picture postcards, illustrations, etc. What, for example, is the “meaning” of something called “La terrase des audiences du clair de lune” (The Terrace of the Audiences of Moonlight….I have also seen it more loosely translated as “The Balcony Where Moonlight Holds Court”)? It should also be noted that Debussy placed the titles of the preludes at the
of each piece, not at the beginning. I like to think that this was his way of inviting his listeners to let their imaginations run free and decide on any pictorial “meaning” for themselves. I should also mention that he didn’t especially care if any of the preludes were performed outside the group.
Having defended the originals, let me point out that Breiner’s orchestrations, for better or worse, take Debussy seriously and surely are intended as enhancements of the originals; I enjoyed listening to them and do not doubt that many of
’s readers may feel the same way (even if they prefer the piano originals)—one never feels that he’s trying to demonstrate how “clever” he is at Debussy’s expense. As it happens, there was another set of orchestrations issued last year, performed by the Hallé Orchestra under Mark Elder. There, the arranger, Colin Matthews didn’t always limit himself to mere orchestration. Sometimes, as in “Danseuses de Delphes,” “Minstrels,” “Des pas sur la neige” (Footsteps in the Snow), and “La cathédrale engloutie” (The Engulfed Cathedral), he seems to take Debussy’s title seriously; at other times, what occurs amounts to a dialectic between two sensibilities, his and Debussy’s, with the result being a hybrid that blends both, often in a fascinating way, creating what nearly amounts to a new composition, rather than a mere orchestration. If you are interested in this music, it might be well worth exploring.